Tom Slingsby and team Australia on Sunday won the Spain Sail Grand Prix by sailing to an easy win in the podium race after Sir Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain team capsized just after the start, effectively knocking US skipper Jimmy Spithill out of contention.
The victory on a wild afternoon on the Bay of Cadiz allowed the defending champions to vault back into the lead in the season standings heading into their home regatta in Sydney in the middle of December.
The anticipated heavyweight showdown in the podium race among three of the world’s best skippers never materialized. Slingsby, Ainslie and Spithill were crewmates with Oracle Team USA in 2013 and helped stage one the greatest comebacks in sports to successfully defend the America’s Cup.
Ainslie’s foiling 50-foot (15m) catamaran nosedived shortly after the start, and Spithill had to turn so suddenly to avoid a collision that his catamaran crashed off its foils, triggering the emergency stop systems.
During the time it took for the systems to restart, Slingsby had sailed away for his third victory in six regattas this season.
“We’re stoked with the day. It couldn’t have gone better for us,” said Slingsby, who for the second time this season bounced back from a last-place finish to win a regatta.
“Off the line we realized Ben got a better start, better acceleration, and we saw it all unfold right in front of us,” Slingsby said. “It looked like they got a big gust and got a little bit high on the foils. I just saw them go into a huge pitch-pole right in front of us. The goal was to avoid them, and then we didn’t really realize what happened to Team USA. We realized we had a big lead and we just had to nurse our way around the track.”
Spithill, a two-time America’s Cup winner, was able to get going again and finished the race to strengthen Team USA’s spot on the leaderboard.
Team Australia leads the eight-team fleet with 45 points, followed by the US and Japan with 44 each and Great Britain with 40.
Following the Sydney regatta, the season championship is to be decided in San Francisco from March 26 to 27 next year when the top three teams are to sail for the US$1 million, winner-take-all championship.
The Aussies won the US$1 million prize during the inaugural 2019 season.
“It’s a nice feeling to finish the European leg in front,” Slingsby said. “Everyone’s joking we’re the Ricky Bobby of the fleet. We’re either first or last. I didn’t expect that to happen, but it’s true at the moment. We’re either on form or we’re off form. I’m happy we’re on form in the final event and we’re heading into Australia with the lead.”
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